All Good People Here – Ashley Flowers

with Alex Kiester

If you’ve ever involuntarily blurted out ‘And I’m Britt’, this is the book for you. If you’ve pounced on this book before reading the blurb, allow me to enlighten you: this is a novel, not a super long episode of Crime Junkie in book form. Not that I’d ever open a book, see A Novel after the title and question every assumption I’ve ever made.

All Good People Here (A Novel) primarily takes place in Wakarusa, Indiana, where Ashley and Britt grew up. It’s also somewhere I need to visit because of two really important words: Pumpkin Tree!

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In 1994, six year old January Jacobs died. Everyone in town knew Krissy, January’s mother, murdered her but the case has officially remained unsolved.

“You don’t want to go back to that sad little town where that terrible thing happened.”

Margot hasn’t lived in Wakarusa for twenty years but has returned to care for her beloved Uncle Luke. When a young girl is reported missing in a nearby town, Margot believes the person who killed her childhood friend has struck again. Margot is determined to use her crime reporting skills to solve the cases but she seems to be the only one seeing their similarities.

This may be a small town but many of its residents are living with secrets.

“What did you do?”

Hearing the story from Krissy and Margot’s perspectives, you learn about the dynamics of the Jacobs’ family, how the investigation into January’s death unfolded and the impact it has had on everyone close to the case in the subsequent years. A few key details about January and her death made me think of JonBenét Ramsey. Once I made that connection, I had trouble seeing anything else.

I enjoyed tagging along as Margot followed up leads, although I did get a bit bogged down at times with what was happening with Luke. I guessed some of the reveals but, rather than being disappointed by this as I usually would be, it made me feel like I was being a good Crime Junkie.

It’s taken me two weeks since finishing this book to attempt writing a review and that’s mostly due to the last time we see Margot in this book. Readers will likely either love or hate this scene. I loved it but, because I don’t want to get all spoilery, I can’t tell you why I loved it and that’s what I really want to talk about.

I’m looking forward to reading future books by Ashley. Until then, I’ll keep getting my Crime Junkie fix whenever I can and remembering to always “Be weird. Be rude. Stay alive.”

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide, domestic abuse, kidnapping, miscarriage, murder and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and HarperCollins UK for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

What really happened to January Jacobs?

A MYSTERIOUS COLD CASE…

Twenty-five years ago, January Jacob’s parents awoke to find their daughter’s bed empty, a horrifying message spray-painted onto their wall. Hours later, January’s body was found discarded in a ditch. Her murder was never solved. But the town remembers.

A DANGEROUS OBSESSION…

Journalist Margot Davies is tired of reporting meaningless stories. One night, she stumbles upon a clue in the most infamous crime in her hometown’s history: the unsolved murder of six-year-old January.

A TOWN FULL OF SECRETS…

As Margot digs deeper, she begins to suspect that there is something truly sinister lurking in the small community: a secret that endangers the lives of everyone involved…including Margot.

Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers

Welcome to Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, home of the Banks family. Recently deposited on the doorstep is Mary Poppins and she’s about to teach the Banks children the wonders of impossible things made possible.

“How did you come?” Jane asked. “It looked just as if the wind blew you here.” “It did,” said Mary Poppins briefly.

In 1987, Stacey McGill from The Baby-Sitters Club introduced me to her favourite movie. Mary Poppins quickly became my first Disney obsession, the VHS one of my most prized possessions. One of my proudest achievements, as someone whose age had yet to reach double digits, was teaching myself how to spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Needless to say, I was completely blindsided by my passionate hatred of this book when I first read it in my 20’s. This isn’t the Mary Poppins I know and love, I thought to myself. Where’s the kite flying? Where’s the practically perfect in every way? Why is Mary Poppins so grumpy all the time? Isn’t she supposed to consist almost entirely of sunshine and spoonfuls of sugar?

There was something strange and extraordinary about her – something that was frightening and at the same time most exciting.

I think part of the problem I had during my first read was the way Mary Poppins’ speech was described: “she said threateningly”, “she said shortly”, “said Mary Poppins, contemptuously”, “said Mary Poppins rudely”, “said Mary Poppins haughtily”, “Mary Poppins sounded ferocious”. Not exactly warm and fuzzy sounding.

Heading into this reread, some [redacted] years later, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Mary Poppins references have made up a significant portion of some of my conversations during the past year so, although I haven’t revisited my well worn DVD copy for longer than I’d care to admit, my ability to scrounge up Mary Poppins quotes for pretty much any occasion remains.

It turns out I had essentially blocked my entire experience of reading this book the first time from my brain. I was shocked to discover the movie erased two entire Banks children, twins John and Barbara.

The ones who remain, Jane and Michael, probably wish they were Disney kids because they’re not invited to the chalk painting adventure in the book. Incidentally, in the book, Bert sells matches when he’s not drawing pavement pictures rather than sweeping chimneys. Well, there goes that song…

Although, in the book, Jane and Michael don’t have to clean up the nursery. Another song deleted…

Some staples remain: Admiral Boom is busily steering his ship, Jane and Michael are dosed by their nanny, Mary Poppins’ carpet bag is still a Tardis and she’s brought the right umbrella with her, only P.L. Travers neglected to give the umbrella a voice box.

One thing about the book version absolutely delighted me; at no time during my countless Disney binges did I have an inkling that Mary Poppins smells of toast! Meanwhile, on the potentially disturbing side of things, there is a scene in the book that makes cannibalism sound positively yummy.

Missing from the movie are entire chapters of material. There’s no dancing cow, no gingerbread and you never get to discover what happens when “the Birthday falls on a Full Moon”, just to name a few.

I wondered if the author had a particular dislike of fat people. Multiple people are described first and foremost as fat and Katie Nanna’s weight seemed to be one of the reasons why the children never liked her.

She was old and fat and smelt of barley-water.

This is the first time I’ve ever picked up on Mary Poppins’ gaslighting of Jane and Michael. On several occasions, the children experience a magical, impossible adventure with Mary Poppins. Shortly after it’s finished, one or both of the children are practically bursting with excitement. All they want to do is gush about the experience with Mary Poppins. Her response? She gets all snippy, pretends she doesn’t know what they’re talking about and does her damnedest to get the kiddies to question their reality.

This time around I felt like I understood Mary Poppins a bit better and, although the book isn’t destined to become a favourite like the movie was, I am interested in continuing the series to see what other adventures await me.

Oh, and expect to hear me say “Strike me pink!” whenever I’m pleased in the near future.

“Which way is the wind blowing?”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, everyday life at the Banks house is forever changed.

It all starts when Mary Poppins is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house. She becomes a most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins. Who else but Mary Poppins can slide up banisters, pull an entire armchair out of an empty carpetbag, and make a dose of medicine taste like delicious lime-juice cordial? A day with Mary Poppins is a day of magic and make-believe come to life! 

Enough – Harriet Johnson

In her work as a barrister, Harriet Johnson has seen how the criminal justice system can work and also how it can fail women. In this book, Harriet outlines many of the ways violence is perpetrated against women, how the justice system responds to it and how it can be more adequately addressed as well as prevented.

An overview of the law, statistics and case studies are presented about various ways that women experience violence: homicide, sexual violence, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, stalking, street harassment and online harassment. 

The author clearly points out that even though a dark picture can already be painted using the statistics that are available, there are entire groups of women whose experience is not even captured in them.

If you’re not from the UK, you’ll find that the definitions of offences, the laws that relate to them and the maximum applicable if someone is convicted won’t line up with the laws of your country. The statistics are also UK specific, although most didn’t seem dissimilar to what I know of stats from other countries.

None of the suggested strategies for ending violence against women surprised me. They focus on prevention, as well as making improvements to the systems that are currently in place. It’s about having enough resources and training. It’s taking a long, hard look at the way police and the courts respond to violence. It’s including marginalised women in the statistics because if we don’t have a clear picture of what’s happening, then how can we ever expect things to change.

Favourite quote: “the culture you get is the behaviour you tolerate.”

Content warnings include mention of ableism, death by suicide, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, homophobia, mental health, misogyny, racism, self harm and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and William Collins, an imprint of HarperCollins, for the opportunity to read this book. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This is a book that calls time on the endless tide of violence against women and the failures of our criminal justice system to respond.

From barrister Harriet Johnson, Enough lays bare the appalling status quo of abuse against women in our society, offering an irrefutable case for why change is needed in policing and justice. Most vitally, it also gives a manifesto for how to get there.

With expertise, clear-sightedness and appropriate fury, this book helps us see where women are suffering – from homicide to domestic abuse to street harassment. It exposes the ways the criminal justice system lets women down – from officers failing to properly investigate to a lack of consequences when police behaviour is unacceptable, to backlogged courts and the realities of convincing a jury.

Addressing misogyny is to everyone’s benefit and the answers aren’t simple. Enough is the call to arms we can – and must – all get behind.

The Treatment – C.L. Taylor

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Drew’s brother, Mason, has recently been sent to the Residential Reform Academy, a therapeutic boarding school, to overcome his ‘behavioural problems’. The hope that Mason will come back a changed person becomes fear that Mason will come back a zombified changed person when a woman who says she worked at the Academy accosts Drew and hands her a note, supposedly from her brother, before running off.

Help me, Drew! We’re not being reformed, we’re being brainwashed.

Because this is a young adult novel, pretty much all of the adults are useless, evil or disinterested so if someone is going to save the day it’s going to have to be Drew. And that’s just what she decides to do.

Now Drew is also at the Academy and if she doesn’t figure out a foolproof plan soon, her brother won’t be the only one getting treated.

‘Obedience, compliance and honesty. They’re the bedrocks of society.’

This was a quick, compulsive read. There’s danger, action and a bunch of kids who have all been labelled as bad stuck in a system that’s supposed to be helping them but could actually be causing them irreparable harm.

Drew was an interesting main character. Initially a loner, she rallies when she learns her brother is in danger and even makes a friend along the way. I really liked Mouse, although I wanted to learn more about her backstory. I found Lacey and Jude so very irritating, but it probably would have been weird if I didn’t want to find a way to reach through the pages to slap them.

Some coincidences were a little over the top, like Zed just so happening to live close enough to Drew that they could meet face to face and Lacey just so happening to wind up at the Academy as well. In Drew’s very own room. What did Lacey do to get sent there anyway? Was she really so desperate to bully Drew that she followed her there? Speaking of coincidences, Drew’s dad, who’s been missing for eight years, just so happened to also be at the Academy.

Then there were the things that seemed too easy, like people being deprogrammed so quickly when they were faced with a specific fear. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert at reversing brainwashing but if any of the things I’ve read about cults are true, then it’s not a switch that can simply be turned off. It seems to be a much more intense and drawn out process than how it’s portrayed here.

The ending felt rushed and a bit too neat, and I have some unanswered questions. However, this was an enjoyable read and I am interested in reading more books by this author.

Content warnings include bullying.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Harlequin Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“You have to help me. We’re not being reformed. We’re being brainwashed.”

All sixteen year old Drew Finch wants is to be left alone. She’s not interested in spending time with her mum and stepdad and when her disruptive fifteen year old brother Mason is expelled from school for the third time and sent to a residential reform academy she’s almost relieved.

Everything changes when she’s followed home from school by the mysterious Dr Cobey, who claims to have a message from Mason. There is something sinister about the ‘treatment’ he is undergoing. The school is changing people.

Determined to help her brother, Drew must infiltrate the Academy and unearth its deepest, darkest secrets.

Before it’s too late.

Rainbow Grey – Laura Ellen Anderson

Once upon a time there were seven groups of Weatherlings. Then a Rogue created the worst storm Earth has ever seen, Storm Tornadia, and since that time rainbow Weatherlings have been extinct.

‘I thought rainbows were just made up?’

All that remain are Weatherlings of “Sun, snow, rain, cloud, wind, thunder ‘n’ lightning.”

Ray is a Weatherling but she doesn’t have any weather magic. She does have a cloud-cat called Nim who changes shape and explodes without warning. She also has two best friends, know almost everything Snowden Everfreeze, whose think-flakes are all sorts of quirky, and homework averse orphan Droplett Dewbells, who can teleport between puddles.

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You might think Ray would be envious of her classmates, who all have weather magic. She’s not, though, and I think I know the reason. While the rest of her class practice their weather magic, Ray gets to go to the library to read.

Tonight is special because Ray, a ten year old, will be witnessing her first ever eclipse, an event that only takes place once every eleven years.

‘These beauuuuutiful twinkly specks called STARS fill the whole sky. Then you’ll see the great Moon King with his large plate of big round cheese. He dances around, using the big cheese wheel to cover up the old Sunflower while the Sunkeepers prepare a new one to glow for the next eleven years.’

The world building in this book was so imaginative. From the silver lining that Ray’s mother fixes on their home (Cloud Nine) to the different types of magic on display and the yummy treats at the local bakery (make sure you eat the rumblebun in time), there’s so much to look at and enjoy.

My favourite character was Ray’s cloud-cat. Nim may not get any lines but they’re definitely the comic relief. His eyes aren’t always where you expect them to be and he’s not the most reliable form of transport in Celestia but I absolutely adored this defective cloud-companion.

It was super obvious who this book’s villain was going to be and the resolution was a bit too sweet, but … adult reading a kid’s book here. I probably would have been blindsided by the reveal had I actually read this when I was the target audience.

While this story wraps up quite nicely, there is a sneaky set up in the epilogue for the next book in the series. Yes, you bet I’ll be reading it and yes, I’m passing this one along to my mother because I think she’ll love it too. Especially when she learns of the existence of duck-nados!

‘Let’s follow that rainbow!’

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Ten-year-old Ray Grey lives in the magical Weatherlands, high in the sky! Ray is surrounded by Weatherlings with astounding weather power at their fingertips … but she doesn’t have ANY magic!

Then, after a trip to Earth, Ray’s life changes forever. She is transformed from Ray Grey intro RAINBOW GREY! With the help of her best friends (and exploding cloud cat, Nim) now all Ray has to do is master her powers AND save the world from a mysterious, powerful enemy…

The Language of Magic #1: Threadneedle – Cari Thomas

Spoilers Ahead! (in content warnings)

‘How can I know who I am without knowing who I came from?’

After a tragedy left her an orphan, Anna was raised by her Aunt. She’s known her entire life that she’s going to be a Binder when she grows up.

The Binders did all they could to prevent magic being exposed to the ordinary world, to keep it locked away behind doors; brushed under carpets; tied in necklaces and tucked beneath blouses.

Now Anna is in sixth form and it’s only a year until her magic, such that it is, will be bound. As the school Nobody, Anna has always tried to fly under the radar. That won’t be as easy to achieve once she joins a coven.

‘We deal in that which cannot be known by the light of day and exact our punishments by dark.’

Attis, resident eye candy/mystery boy, intrigued me, as did Effie, although I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be best friends with her or her archnemesis. She’s kinda prickly so I think I’d want to be cautious around her.

Having a religious girl in the coven initially confused me as I had trouble figuring out how the two could possibly intersect. I don’t think I like Miranda/Manda. There’s something about people who claim religion and then act in ways that fly in the face of their spouted beliefs that make me want to point my finger and hiss, ‘Hyprocrite!’ I know we’ve all been guilty of saying one thing and then doing another at some point in our lives but when it comes from someone who evangelises … I don’t know … it just seems different somehow.

Then there was Rowan, who I absolutely adored, except for the fact that so much time was spent body shaming her. If someone else wasn’t bullying her about her weight, Rowan was pointing it out herself. She was so much more interesting to me than whatever the scales say about her. Also, her mother is an absolute delight and I need to spend so much more time with her!

The Binders gave me cult vibes throughout the book. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you think there’s some truth to what they’ve been saying all along or not. I’m a bit on the fence about this and could argue either way. I suspect there’s some truth there but I definitely question (and that’s putting it nicely) their methods and some crucial core beliefs.

I’m usually all for magic, regardless of the form it takes, but some of the magic in this book gave me the heebie-jeebies. I’m not sure if I’ve simply never considered this before or if it was the way some of the magic played out here but it got me thinking about free will. If any spell removes free will from someone, whether it’s their thoughts or actions, then it seems to me that this tramples all over consent.

To force your will on someone else in a way that takes away their freedom to think or act in a way they choose feels really icky to me. My brain helpfully came up with the term ‘magical assault’ and now I can’t get it out of my head. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see certain types of magic in action again without my brain shouting that at me. Thanks for nothing, brain!

The bonds we have with family and friends and how these can be tied to fear and sacrifice are explored in this book. It’s not always clear whether someone is acting selfishly or in another person’s best interests. There are opposing truths at play, which complicates things even further.

One thing that definitely wasn’t complicated for me was my love of this book’s magical library. This could be one of my favourite libraries ever and I want to spend an entire book lost in there.

While I wish I’d learned more about the seven faceless women in this book, there are indications that they will play a vital role as the series unfolds. I am particularly interested in the seventh woman and am not so secretly hoping that we’ve already met her in this book but don’t know it yet. I already know who I want her to be.

‘People think stories are harmless but they are the most dangerous weapon mankind has.’

Content warnings include body shaming, bullying, emotional abuse, physical abuse and slut shaming. Death by suicide is mentioned a few times as a suspected cause of death.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Within the boroughs of London, nestled among its streets, hides another city filled with magic.

Ever since Anna can remember, her aunt has warned her of the dangers of magic. She has taught her to fear how it twists and knots and turns into something dark and deadly.

It was, after all, magic that killed her parents and left her in her aunt’s care. It’s why she has been protected from the magical world and, in one year’s time, what little magic she has will be bound. She will join her aunt alongside the other Binders who believe magic is a sin not to be used, but denied. Only one more year and she will be free of the curse of magic, her aunt’s teachings and the disappointment of the little she is capable of.

Nothing – and no one – could change her mind before then. Could it?

Supernatural Investigations #1: Amari and the Night Brothers – B.B. Alston

“Go to any corner of the world and you’ll find tales of beings and creatures that only seem possible in our imaginations. What if I told you that living among us are all the beings we’ve come to pass off as myth?”

Amari Peters is a twelve year old Black kid from the projects. She lives with her Mama, who is working herself into the ground trying to make ends meet. Amari’s older brother and biggest supporter, Quinton, has been missing for almost six months.

“He made me believe I could actually do anything I set my mind to. He made me believe in me.”

Amari refuses to believe that Quinton is dead or that his disappearance is a result of him getting mixed up in something shady, despite what everyone else seems to think. She knows her brother is alive and that he would never compromise his values, and she’s determined to be the one to find him.

Amari, an outcast, is about to learn there’s much more to this world than she ever dreamed possible. People have judged Amari for things about herself she can’t change, even if she wanted to, her entire life. Now she’s received an invitation to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, “a location that handles several million very well-kept secrets.”

“You ready?”

“I think so,” I say.

Agent Magnus grins. “Oh, I doubt that very much.”

Amari’s new roommate, Elsie Rodriguez, is a weredragon who can see other people’s emotions. Elsie has so much potential, as a loyal friend, as an inventor and as a serious contender for the honour of being my favourite character (besides Amari, of course).

Amari travels in elevators that have more personality than some humans. My favourites were super speedy Lucy and Mischief, the part time service elevator with a dirty-rascal chip. You’ll need them to visit the Bureau’s various departments.

I’m listing the departments mentioned in this book, along with the names of the directors we know about so far, mostly so I don’t forget them by the time I get my hands on the sequel.

  • Department of Creature Control
  • Department of the Dead – Director Kript
  • Department of Dreams and Nightmares
  • Department of Good Fortunes and Bad Omens – Director Horus
  • Department of Half Truths and Full Cover-Ups – Director Rub-Ish
  • Department of Hidden Places
  • Department of Magical Science – Director Fokus
  • Department of Supernatural Health
  • Department of Supernatural Investigations – Director Van Helsing
  • Department of Supernatural Licenses and Records – Director Cobblepot
  • Department of Undersea Relations
  • Department of the Unexplained

The names of the directors are perfect! I’m hoping someone will come up with a quiz (if they haven’t already) I can take to tell me which department I‘d work in.

Amari learns some really cool things (boogeypersons eat fear, which apparently tastes like chicken) but she quickly discovers that prejudice also exists in the supernatural world. I hope all of the kids who read this book take to heart the message of believing in yourself.

In case it’s not already obvious, I am absolutely obsessed with this book! I’d recommended it to someone before I’d reached 25%. I’ve ordered a copy from the library for my mother and haven’t even told her a single thing about it yet; that’s how confident I am that she’ll love it as well. I purchased a signed copy when I still had over fifty pages to go. [This is the first physical book I’ve bought in 2021 and if you knew anything about my current situation you’d realise what a huge deal it was for me to have broken my longest I’m-not-buying-any-books streak in what is quite possibly my entire reading life.]

This book has me almost equal parts exhilarated and terrified. I haven’t been this excited about a new series for so long that I can’t even tell you what the last series was that had me so hyped up. So why is that terrifying? Because I borrowed this book from the library, it’s due tomorrow and I came so close to sending it back unread because I didn’t think I’d have the time to finish it. I almost missed out on the wonder that is Amari and the world that was brought to life through her eyes. The world building in this book is phenomenal!

I know what you’re probably thinking. It’s a library book; surely I could have reserved it again and should stop being so dramatic. Well, my friend, this is me we’re talking about. My TBR list is so ginormous that if I don’t get to a book when I first pick it up it’s likely to fall into my good intentions abyss. New favourites like this one terrify me because they make me wonder what other gems I might be missing out on.

“In the end, we are all bound by our choices.”

I want to live in the Bureau’s library and become best friends with Mrs. Belle, the librarian who knows “what you’d like to read, just by looking at you.” One of my favourite bookish delights, fictional book titles mentioned within a book, were scattered throughout Amari’s story; the ones I most want to read are Physics in Magic: The Often Lack Thereof and Rasputin’s Directory of Dangerous Doodads and Doohickeys. The gossip magazine article that I’m already imagining writing a B-grade book about was Rogue carnivorous thunderclouds threaten air travel in South Pacific.

I need someone to magic up the sequel for me. I don’t think I can wait until 2022 to read it!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Amari Peters knows three things.

Her brother Quinton has gone missing.

No one will talk about it.

His mysterious job holds a clue …

So when she’s invited for a trial at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, Amari is certain this is her chance to save him. But first she has to get her head around the new world of the Bureau, where mermaids, aliens and magicians are real – and her roommate is a weredragon.

Amari must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about this world their whole lives. And with an evil magician threatening the entire supernatural world, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton …

Consent – Vanessa Springora

Translator – Natasha Lehrer

Every so often I read a blurb and just know a book’s contents are going to make my blood boil. This is one of those books.

In her memoir, Vanessa (V.) tells us about G.

G. is Gabriel Matzneff, a French author who, in his books, never attempts to hide his sexual assaults (he calls it love) of underage girls and his trips to the Philippines to sexually assault even younger boys. G. is someone who has won awards for detailing his crimes.

After they met at a party, G. quickly turned his attention to Vanessa.

I had just turned fourteen. He was almost fifty.

The fury for me came in waves, each time someone who could have (and should have) protected Vanessa failed to do so.

Her father is physically and emotionally absent; he doesn’t act on the outrage he feels when he learns of Vanessa’s ‘relationship’ with G.

Her mother allows it, even casually having dinner with her daughter and her rapist. Sure, her mother “consulted” her friends about him but none of them were “particularly disturbed”. This is the woman who made a deal with the devil:

Whatever the reason, her only intervention was to make a pact with G. He had to swear that he would never make me suffer.

The police are notified on a number of occasions but their efforts can hardly be accused of being an investigation.

Then there’s Emil Cioran, a philosopher and friend of G., who came up with this gem:

“It is an immense honor to have been chosen by him. Your role is to accompany him on the path of creation, and to bow to his impulses.”

I’m so glad that Vanessa has used writing to tell her truth, the very medium that her abuser used to distort her experiences with him.

This was a quick but difficult read. I spent a significant amount of time wanting to throw the book against a wall, mostly because the people who were infuriating me weren’t conveniently standing in front of me.

The fact that so many people essentially gave this man their blessing to continue being a serial predator astounds me. Because books are such an integral part of my life I feel justified in being personally offended that G. was encouraged to continue writing about his sickening behaviour, both by the French publishers who continued to print them and the people who actually paid to read them.

G. was not like other men. He boasted of only having had sexual relations with girls who were virgins or boys who had barely reached puberty, then recounted these stories in his books. This was precisely what he was doing when he took possession of my youth for his sexual and literary ends.

This is a well written book. Just make sure you have a punching bag handy when you read it.

P.S. This NY Times article has given me a glimmer or hope that G. may get to see the inside of a jail cell. Maybe all of his published books will be good for something after all: evidence.

Content warnings include domestic violence, gaslighting, grooming, mental health, paedophilia and sexual assault.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Already an international literary sensation, an intimate and powerful memoir of a young French teenage girl’s relationship with a famous, much older male writer – a universal #MeToo story of power, manipulation, trauma, recovery, and resiliency that exposes the hypocrisy of a culture that has allowed the sexual abuse of minors to occur unchecked.

Sometimes, all it takes is a single voice to shatter the silence of complicity. 

Thirty years ago, Vanessa Springora was the teenage muse of one of the country’s most celebrated writers, a footnote in the narrative of a very influential man in the French literary world.

At the end of 2019, as women around the world began to speak out, Vanessa, now in her forties and the director of one of France’s leading publishing houses, decided to reclaim her own story, offering her perspective of those events sharply known.

Consent is the story of one precocious young girl’s stolen adolescence. Devastating in its honesty, Vanessa’s painstakingly memoir lays bare the cultural attitudes and circumstances that made it possible for a thirteen-year-old girl to become involved with a fifty-year-old man who happened to be a notable writer. As she recalls the events of her childhood and her seduction by one of her country’s most notable writers, Vanessa reflects on the ways in which this disturbing relationship changed and affected her as she grew older. 

Drawing parallels between children’s fairy tales and French history and her personal life, Vanessa offers an intimate and absorbing look at the meaning of love and consent and the toll of trauma and the power of healing in women’s lives. Ultimately, she offers a forceful indictment of a chauvinistic literary world that has for too long accepted and helped perpetuate gender inequality and the exploitation and sexual abuse of children.

The Nesting – C.J. Cooke

‘Nature always protects itself by whatever means possible.’

Sophie has a new job as a nanny, caring for two adorable girls, Gaia and Coco. Their father, Tom, is an architect who’s currently working hard on an innovative new project in Norway. Sophie is also working hard, trying to make sure no one figures out that she’s not really Sophie, but Lexi, and that she’s not actually a nanny.

Although it appears to be the ideal escape from her real life, this new job isn’t as straightforward as Lexi had hoped. Tom’s wife died recently, supposedly by suicide, although Lexi suspects there’s more to the story. She’s also been told that the locked basement is off limits.

Even if you hear something down there, please stay out.

Hear something?

What the hell was in that basement?

Then there’s the Sad Lady, who Gaia keeps mentioning, who has holes where her eyes should be.

I’d only planned on reading a couple of pages to get a feel for the book but before I knew it I’d binged the entire thing. I enjoyed it much more than I expected I would but I am left with some question marks.

I adored the children but didn’t connect with any of the adults. The mental health components of Lexi and Aurelia’s stories intrigued me but I’m not a huge fan of unreliable narrators so I found myself questioning their realities more than I would have liked.

After such a build up, the ending felt rushed to me and some of the ways the story came together seemed a bit too convenient. Lexi’s backstory answered some questions I’d had but read more like an info dump, glossing over some pretty monumental events in her life.

With trees and a fjord, minimal sunlight and the tantalising possibility of spotting an aurora, the setting felt like its own character and made this an atmospheric read. This was helped along by the environmental message and the Norse folklore. The folklore included in this story were written by the author.

I’m interested in reading more books by this author and devouring some Norse folklore.

Content warnings include attempted suicide (including the method used), child abuse, foster care, mental health, miscarriage, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It was like something out of a fairytale …
The grieving widower.
The motherless daughters.
A beautiful house in the woods.

Deep in a remote Norwegian forest, Lexi has found a new home with architect Tom and his two young daughters. With snow underfoot and the sound of the nearby fjord in her ears, it’s as if Lexi has stepped into a fairy tale

But this family has a history – and this place has a past. Something was destroyed to build their beautiful new house. And those ancient, whispering woods have a long memory.

Lexi begins to hear things, see things that don’t make sense. She used to think this place heavenly, but in the dark, dark woods, a menacing presence lurks.

With darkness creeping in from the outside, Lexi knows she needs to protect the children in her care.

But protect them from what?

Girl A – Abigail Dean

There are things that your body doesn’t allow you to forget.

The seven Gracie children are known in the media as Boys A to D and Girls A to C. Lex, our main character, is Girl A.

‘Girl A,’ she said. ‘The girl who escaped. If anybody was going to make it, it was going to be you.’

We join Lex’s story when she learns her mother, who recently died in prison, made Lex the executor of her will. It’s now up to Lex, in consultation with her siblings, to figure out what to do with the House of Horrors of their childhood.

I found it impossible to get the Turpin children out of my mind as I read this book. There are so many similarities, from the way they were treated to the photographs released in the media showing their matching clothes and distinctive hair, that I probably wouldn’t believe it if I was told the Turpin’s weren’t the inspiration for the Gracie’s in this story.

Number 11 was set back from the road. It had a grubby beige front and a garage, and a garden at the back. It was – as they would later say – a very ordinary house.

With the almost casual use of terms like “the Binding Days” and “the Chaining”, you know you’re not in for a light and fluffy read. It wasn’t as traumatic as I’d feared it would be, although it may be that I’m more accustomed to processing stories that feature child abuse.

I know enough information about each of the siblings to have an idea of how they’ve coped with the trauma they experienced as children but I would have loved to have delved deeper. Then again, the depth I was hoping for would probably transform this from a book of fiction to a psychology textbook. That’s just my long term fascination with nature vs. nurture talking.

I didn’t find the frequent timeline jumps disorienting, although some other reviewers clearly weren’t fans of it. Throughout the book we learn about Lex’s early childhood memories, the events that lead up to her escape and its immediate aftermath, and her life since. There’s not a lot of happy in this book, which makes the brief interactions with characters like Miss Glade, one of Lex’s teachers, shine that much brighter.

I figured out the twist quite early on. I don’t remember a specific sentence that pointed me in that direction, though. Instead, it felt more like an instinctual knowing. Even so, I didn’t find a lot to back up my theory before the reveal confirmed it. I’d like to be able to discuss the psychology surrounding it, particularly the impacts I suspect are related to it but aren’t explicitly mentioned, but I will instead ponder them quietly to myself because spoilers.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, emotional abuse, neglect, physical abuse and self harm.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘Girl A,’ she said. ‘The girl who escaped. If anyone was going to make it, it was going to be you.’

Lex Gracie doesn’t want to think about her family. She doesn’t want to think about growing up in her parents’ House of Horrors. And she doesn’t want to think about her identity as Girl A: the girl who escaped. When her mother dies in prison and leaves Lex and her siblings the family home, she can’t run from her past any longer. Together with her sister, Evie, Lex intends to turn the House of Horrors into a force for good. But first she must come to terms with her six siblings – and with the childhood they shared.